When I was a student at Yale Divinity School, fresh out of a fundamentalist cult, I encountered a student who read tarot cards. She was a single mother as I was and our daughters played together. She had short cropped hair, wore no make-up, sported unshaved armpits, and lived in the brightly-colored South American clothing of an ecologically-minded feminist. By biblical standards, which I was trying hard not to apply, she was a virtuous woman. She operated her own loom, spun her own yarn, knit prolifically and made delicious lentil soup. She also believed in Jesus.
One day she asked me if I wanted to have my "cards read." Sure, I said, though not without intense fear amd trepidation. It was a Friday night. We sat on her apartment floor as the children slept in the other room and she lit some candles. Then she pulled out "The Deck," wrapped in a black silk cloth. She carefully unwrapped the cloth and invited me to touch the cards, just start randomly shuffling them, holding a question in mind. I followed her instructions carefully, with one eye on her, just in case she grew fangs and her head started rotating on its axis.
This was some devilish stuff, I thought, though I had ostensibly come to divinity school "looking for the devil." Our cult leader used to say that seminaries were the breeding ground of Satan. So when I left the cult, having not had much success with God, I figured I'd give the devil a try. Here I was - face to face with the devil's wiles. But as it turned out, neither of us showed signs of demon possession - eyes rolling back in the head, uncontrolled fits of cursing God, human sacrifices, pledging my soul to Satan.
Instead, what I learned was yet another tradition in unfolding the archetypes of the spiritual self. The Chinese have them in the I Ching. Hindus have them in mandalas. Native Americans have them in their own ceremonies. To me, the devil does not exist in these material things. The devil exists when we elevate these man-made forms above the Mystery of Being, above God, be it a deck of cards or a black leather-bound book.
As Shane the cowboy said, when asked about guns, "a gun is only as good or bad as the man who uses it." I believe the same applies to spiritual traditions. If we exalt a human device above the mystery of God, if we turn it into an idol, whether it's astrology, tarot or biblical research, then we are playing with the devil. It's only as good or as bad as the person who uses them.